+
+

How to build robust processes for writing content

How to build robust processes for writing content

How to build robust processes for writing content

How to build robust processes for writing content

Thom James Carter

Content writer, Process Street

As a writer, you’re either a gardener or an architect. Let me explain, with the help of George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones book series. 

Martin once said in an interview:

The architects know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they're going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there's going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don't know how many branches it's going to have, they find out as it grows.

Considering the lengthy time frame (we’re talking years, here) it takes for Martin to write the instalments of the Game of Thrones series, he’s a gardener: His approach — or process, is more haphazard, left to chance, and is a bit of a gamble.

But what if Martin were an architect? If he had a meticulous process for writing an upcoming book, that would mean the book in question would be written faster, and perhaps even to a higher standard? 

When it comes to writing, a gardener’s approach leaves room for human error to creep in, which invariably damages the end product. That’s why, as somebody who’s writing in a business context, you need to build, implement, and sustain robust processes for writing stellar content as fast as possible.

Don’t let your audience become as frustrated as Martin’s — build!

Decide how you’ll document your content writing processes

Before I jump into the nitty-gritty of content writing processes, you’ll need to consider how you want to document the processes. After all, having a process that only lives inside your head isn’t doing you any favours, nor is it helpful for the rest of your team (or any new hires you’re onboarding who could get to grips with their role faster by following documented processes). 

In fact, an eye-opening project by the Keystone Initiative showed that documenting processes has real-world benefits. After the partaking ICU doctors had documented and followed their medical processes, rather than relying on memory as they had done previously, they saved a whopping $175,000,000 in costs and over 1,500 lives. Now, I’m not saying content writers can save lives in the way doctors can by documenting their processes, but you’ll save time, money, and effort. When you document business processes, it means people can write effective content — and more! — when working from home.

There are various options when it comes to process documentation. What’s often used is the humble pen-and-paper method. But paper, unfortunately, is prone to going on adventures (read: getting lost) and having accidents (read: getting thrown in the bin). A step up from that would be something like Google Docs or even Word. But, again, if you’re putting time and effort into reading this post and documenting your content writing processes, you want to default to dedicated software. A Content Operations Platform like GatherContent is a gold-star option, as is business process management software

Once you’ve decided how you’ll document your content writing processes, you’ll want to start by documenting the planning process.

Build out your planning process

When I talk about the writing process, I’m really talking about a myriad of processes. Writing isn’t just the act of writing — the whole flow concerns planning, writing, editing, publishing, and governance. And it all kicks off with planning.

For a blog post use case, the planning process begins with ideation; considering what subject is interesting, well-suited to your business’ blog, and valuable for your readership. 

As Rachel Leist at HubSpot explains: “A good blog post is interesting and educational. Blogs should answer questions and help readers resolve a challenge they're experiencing — and you have to do so in an interesting way.”

The first step of the planning process would be a task that’s akin to “Think of blog post ideas”. 

Once you’ve married yourself to a single idea the next step is competitor research — seeing who’s ranking on Google’s front pages for that subject matter, what their content includes (and what it doesn’t), and what would make your post more engaging, interesting, and unique than your dastardly rivals’ posts. 

Speaking of ranking, if you’re going for organic growth, you’ll also move onto keyword research to find your keyword(s) and any viable longtails. It may not be terribly enjoyable digging through Ahrefs or Moz and analysing numbers, but it’s an integral aspect of business content writing. Even the most remarkable, well-written post will get drowned out and yield no benefit if the SEO odds are stacked against it.

These are most of the best practices where planning is concerned. But others include drawing up an outline for the post, understanding the audience you want to target, deciding on word count, establishing a goal or KPIs to measure the post’s effectiveness, and over-communicating to your team what you’re about to start working on.

In terms of flow the planning process looks like this:

  • Think of blog post ideas.
  • Whittle the choices down to one.
  • Undergo competitor research.
  • Consider your post’s unique elements.
  • Undergo keyword research.
  • Draft the post’s title.
  • Determine the post’s word count.
  • Create a post outline.
  • Ask a designer for post images.
  • Let your team know what you’re about to work on.

Your planning process will differ slightly, of course. What’s key is documenting it in the first place with the right software. Then, whenever you or a colleague need to begin writing a blog post, all that needs to be done is to refer to the process document and use it!

Move onto the (actual) writing process

Ah, the writing process (as in, the actual writing process); the most subjective and variable processes of all. And while this is undoubtedly the case, there’s still a process that can be followed for the writing process itself. (Meta, I know.)

For example, you may want the process for the writing process to look similar to this, which is identical to the one I use on a daily basis:

  • Create a new document to write the post in.
  • Double-check the post outline.
  • Add the drafted title.
  • Write down the H2s and H3s.
  • Go back to the top of the doc and write the intro.
  • Write the content for the first H2 (and any H3s).
  • Then rinse and repeat for all the rest of the H2s and H3s.
  • Make sure the word count has been met.
  • Add the most appropriate backlinks to the corresponding anchor text.
  • Use Unsplash, Pixabay, and the like to find relevant images.
  • Get a colleague to peer review the work and supply first draft feedback, if possible.

Documenting the steps that’ll simultaneously guide you through and quicken the writing process is, without question, a fantastic feat. It sets you and the rest of your team up to push out regular, consistently high-standard posts.

Speaking of going through the writing process quicker, while time is money and we want to create content as soon as possible (60% of marketers create one piece of content per day), there’s no point of documenting a process if you’re going to rush through its steps and not abide by its rules. Remember: You’re establishing, documenting, and planning to follow a process in the first place because you want to do the best job possible. It’s not an annoying piece of bureaucracy. The ICU doctors who took part in the Keystone Initiative saved money — and lives — by working through their documented processes properly.

Once a draft has been written, tidy and finish up the post by following the editing process.

Finish up with the editing process

It’s strong, thorough editing that can turn a rough draft into something that’s not just read and shared widely, but lauded. 

But do you have a process for editing — a fully documented process, that is, that’s used every time? Are you editing in a way that incorporates best practices and holds you to account, making sure the content you release isn’t disregarded by the 59% of people who turn their nose up at sloppy content ridden with grammatical errors and mistakes?

No matter if you’re editing a post up before passing it along to your team’s editor or if you’re a one-person content team where you’re acting as the content writer, editor, and the marketing director, a documented editing process is, in a word, crucial.

The editing process, then, contains the following steps:

  • Make sure the post is scannable.
  • Check there’s enough H2s and H3s.
  • Rectify any formatting errors.
  • Certify there are enough mentions of keywords and longtails.
  • Read through the entire post, aloud.
  • Fix immediately noticeable spelling errors and mistakes.
  • Double-check syntax, tone, voice, and use of punctuation.
  • Prioritise clarity and readability.
  • Ensure mentioned statistics and studies are linked to.
  • Click all links to check none are broken.
  • Run through a text-checking app (e.g. Grammarly).

Again, this process will vary depending on the size of your team, who’s been assigned to do what, and what type of blog post it is that’s being created. But as long as the process contains fundamental steps like these — that consequently act as quality management steps — it’s safe to say your content will be, well, quality! Here’s to no longer editing content without a documented process and relying purely on memory.

As time goes on, you’ll improve this editing process — in addition to the other two content writing processes — to better fit you and your team’s overall workflow. This is what’s known as process optimisation; it’s agile, it’s necessary, and allows your processes to always be beneficial.

The importance of optimising your processes 

Process optimisation is the act of making processes more efficient. This is largely done by removing wasteful or unnecessary steps, fixing bottlenecks, and adding quality of life tweaks, thereby streamlining the process overall.

Process optimisation can only really be done when you and the rest of your team (if you have a team, that is) have used the process frequently. It’s through this usage that any pain points of the process are discovered, and where ideas for improvement are thought of. Meaning, you really have to know the process before it can be optimised for the better.

For the time-constrained, it’ll be reassuring to hear that process optimisation won’t steal chunks of time away from you; not only is it simple to do but, for the best results, it’s done only every three months (or quarter). You can simply dip in, discard what’s wasteful and/or not necessary, add improvements, and then use a far better, much more streamlined process for creating content.

If you work as part of a team, getting teammates’ input on how a process can be optimised is crucial. This is because they’ll bring up thoughts and/or feedback that you might not have initially considered — a particular bottleneck, for instance. For a process to be truly optimised, it has to work for everybody who uses it.

Now, in terms of actually undergoing process optimisation, one way to do so is by following the DMAIC structure:

  • Define: What process should be optimised?
  • Measure: How does it currently perform?
  • Analyse: How can it be optimised?
  • Improve: In what ways can it be improved?
  • Control: How can the implemented changes be measured and when will the process be reviewed again?


An image showing a visualisation of the DMAIC structure. Shows the five words in the acronym with a graphic. The word define with a target icon, the word measure with a tape measure graphic, the word analyse with a magnifying glass graphic, the word improve with a graphic of some cogs and upwards facing arrows and finally the word control with a dial on a dashboard graphic.


The DMAIC structure is particularly useful as it’s a tried-and-tested framework for seeing process improvements through. Another framework is PDSA plan, do, study, act which is very similar to DMAIC in terms of process. 

Whichever process optimisation route you go down is up to you — just make sure it gets done. In the modern world of business, teams constantly need to adapt and remain agile, and their processes need to similarly keep up with change. For a content team, perhaps there have been new hires, meaning there’s more capacity to perform peer reviews and edits of other people’s work. Or, let’s say the marketing manager wants to place a bigger emphasis on CRO for all onsite blog posts; the relevant, documented processes must change accordingly. 

The takeaway from this section is rather simple: Optimise processes regularly!

Thrive with the architect’s approach to writing content

According to George R.R. Martin, The Winds of Winter — which is the next instalment in the Game of Thrones series — will arrive in 2021. That means it’ll have taken him over ten years to write the sixth book of the epic fantasy series. 

While a blog post certainly doesn’t have the same word count as a book, the equivalent would be taking a month to write a 1,500-word post.

But by documenting your content writing processes, following my advice on what those processes should look like, and how to optimise them going forward, you and your content won’t succumb to the precarious fate of the gardener. With an architectural approach, you and your team will write effective posts efficiently. Every single time.

As a writer, you’re either a gardener or an architect. Let me explain, with the help of George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones book series. 

Martin once said in an interview:

The architects know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they're going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there's going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don't know how many branches it's going to have, they find out as it grows.

Considering the lengthy time frame (we’re talking years, here) it takes for Martin to write the instalments of the Game of Thrones series, he’s a gardener: His approach — or process, is more haphazard, left to chance, and is a bit of a gamble.

But what if Martin were an architect? If he had a meticulous process for writing an upcoming book, that would mean the book in question would be written faster, and perhaps even to a higher standard? 

When it comes to writing, a gardener’s approach leaves room for human error to creep in, which invariably damages the end product. That’s why, as somebody who’s writing in a business context, you need to build, implement, and sustain robust processes for writing stellar content as fast as possible.

Don’t let your audience become as frustrated as Martin’s — build!

Decide how you’ll document your content writing processes

Before I jump into the nitty-gritty of content writing processes, you’ll need to consider how you want to document the processes. After all, having a process that only lives inside your head isn’t doing you any favours, nor is it helpful for the rest of your team (or any new hires you’re onboarding who could get to grips with their role faster by following documented processes). 

In fact, an eye-opening project by the Keystone Initiative showed that documenting processes has real-world benefits. After the partaking ICU doctors had documented and followed their medical processes, rather than relying on memory as they had done previously, they saved a whopping $175,000,000 in costs and over 1,500 lives. Now, I’m not saying content writers can save lives in the way doctors can by documenting their processes, but you’ll save time, money, and effort. When you document business processes, it means people can write effective content — and more! — when working from home.

There are various options when it comes to process documentation. What’s often used is the humble pen-and-paper method. But paper, unfortunately, is prone to going on adventures (read: getting lost) and having accidents (read: getting thrown in the bin). A step up from that would be something like Google Docs or even Word. But, again, if you’re putting time and effort into reading this post and documenting your content writing processes, you want to default to dedicated software. A Content Operations Platform like GatherContent is a gold-star option, as is business process management software

Once you’ve decided how you’ll document your content writing processes, you’ll want to start by documenting the planning process.

Build out your planning process

When I talk about the writing process, I’m really talking about a myriad of processes. Writing isn’t just the act of writing — the whole flow concerns planning, writing, editing, publishing, and governance. And it all kicks off with planning.

For a blog post use case, the planning process begins with ideation; considering what subject is interesting, well-suited to your business’ blog, and valuable for your readership. 

As Rachel Leist at HubSpot explains: “A good blog post is interesting and educational. Blogs should answer questions and help readers resolve a challenge they're experiencing — and you have to do so in an interesting way.”

The first step of the planning process would be a task that’s akin to “Think of blog post ideas”. 

Once you’ve married yourself to a single idea the next step is competitor research — seeing who’s ranking on Google’s front pages for that subject matter, what their content includes (and what it doesn’t), and what would make your post more engaging, interesting, and unique than your dastardly rivals’ posts. 

Speaking of ranking, if you’re going for organic growth, you’ll also move onto keyword research to find your keyword(s) and any viable longtails. It may not be terribly enjoyable digging through Ahrefs or Moz and analysing numbers, but it’s an integral aspect of business content writing. Even the most remarkable, well-written post will get drowned out and yield no benefit if the SEO odds are stacked against it.

These are most of the best practices where planning is concerned. But others include drawing up an outline for the post, understanding the audience you want to target, deciding on word count, establishing a goal or KPIs to measure the post’s effectiveness, and over-communicating to your team what you’re about to start working on.

In terms of flow the planning process looks like this:

  • Think of blog post ideas.
  • Whittle the choices down to one.
  • Undergo competitor research.
  • Consider your post’s unique elements.
  • Undergo keyword research.
  • Draft the post’s title.
  • Determine the post’s word count.
  • Create a post outline.
  • Ask a designer for post images.
  • Let your team know what you’re about to work on.

Your planning process will differ slightly, of course. What’s key is documenting it in the first place with the right software. Then, whenever you or a colleague need to begin writing a blog post, all that needs to be done is to refer to the process document and use it!

Move onto the (actual) writing process

Ah, the writing process (as in, the actual writing process); the most subjective and variable processes of all. And while this is undoubtedly the case, there’s still a process that can be followed for the writing process itself. (Meta, I know.)

For example, you may want the process for the writing process to look similar to this, which is identical to the one I use on a daily basis:

  • Create a new document to write the post in.
  • Double-check the post outline.
  • Add the drafted title.
  • Write down the H2s and H3s.
  • Go back to the top of the doc and write the intro.
  • Write the content for the first H2 (and any H3s).
  • Then rinse and repeat for all the rest of the H2s and H3s.
  • Make sure the word count has been met.
  • Add the most appropriate backlinks to the corresponding anchor text.
  • Use Unsplash, Pixabay, and the like to find relevant images.
  • Get a colleague to peer review the work and supply first draft feedback, if possible.

Documenting the steps that’ll simultaneously guide you through and quicken the writing process is, without question, a fantastic feat. It sets you and the rest of your team up to push out regular, consistently high-standard posts.

Speaking of going through the writing process quicker, while time is money and we want to create content as soon as possible (60% of marketers create one piece of content per day), there’s no point of documenting a process if you’re going to rush through its steps and not abide by its rules. Remember: You’re establishing, documenting, and planning to follow a process in the first place because you want to do the best job possible. It’s not an annoying piece of bureaucracy. The ICU doctors who took part in the Keystone Initiative saved money — and lives — by working through their documented processes properly.

Once a draft has been written, tidy and finish up the post by following the editing process.

Finish up with the editing process

It’s strong, thorough editing that can turn a rough draft into something that’s not just read and shared widely, but lauded. 

But do you have a process for editing — a fully documented process, that is, that’s used every time? Are you editing in a way that incorporates best practices and holds you to account, making sure the content you release isn’t disregarded by the 59% of people who turn their nose up at sloppy content ridden with grammatical errors and mistakes?

No matter if you’re editing a post up before passing it along to your team’s editor or if you’re a one-person content team where you’re acting as the content writer, editor, and the marketing director, a documented editing process is, in a word, crucial.

The editing process, then, contains the following steps:

  • Make sure the post is scannable.
  • Check there’s enough H2s and H3s.
  • Rectify any formatting errors.
  • Certify there are enough mentions of keywords and longtails.
  • Read through the entire post, aloud.
  • Fix immediately noticeable spelling errors and mistakes.
  • Double-check syntax, tone, voice, and use of punctuation.
  • Prioritise clarity and readability.
  • Ensure mentioned statistics and studies are linked to.
  • Click all links to check none are broken.
  • Run through a text-checking app (e.g. Grammarly).

Again, this process will vary depending on the size of your team, who’s been assigned to do what, and what type of blog post it is that’s being created. But as long as the process contains fundamental steps like these — that consequently act as quality management steps — it’s safe to say your content will be, well, quality! Here’s to no longer editing content without a documented process and relying purely on memory.

As time goes on, you’ll improve this editing process — in addition to the other two content writing processes — to better fit you and your team’s overall workflow. This is what’s known as process optimisation; it’s agile, it’s necessary, and allows your processes to always be beneficial.

The importance of optimising your processes 

Process optimisation is the act of making processes more efficient. This is largely done by removing wasteful or unnecessary steps, fixing bottlenecks, and adding quality of life tweaks, thereby streamlining the process overall.

Process optimisation can only really be done when you and the rest of your team (if you have a team, that is) have used the process frequently. It’s through this usage that any pain points of the process are discovered, and where ideas for improvement are thought of. Meaning, you really have to know the process before it can be optimised for the better.

For the time-constrained, it’ll be reassuring to hear that process optimisation won’t steal chunks of time away from you; not only is it simple to do but, for the best results, it’s done only every three months (or quarter). You can simply dip in, discard what’s wasteful and/or not necessary, add improvements, and then use a far better, much more streamlined process for creating content.

If you work as part of a team, getting teammates’ input on how a process can be optimised is crucial. This is because they’ll bring up thoughts and/or feedback that you might not have initially considered — a particular bottleneck, for instance. For a process to be truly optimised, it has to work for everybody who uses it.

Now, in terms of actually undergoing process optimisation, one way to do so is by following the DMAIC structure:

  • Define: What process should be optimised?
  • Measure: How does it currently perform?
  • Analyse: How can it be optimised?
  • Improve: In what ways can it be improved?
  • Control: How can the implemented changes be measured and when will the process be reviewed again?


An image showing a visualisation of the DMAIC structure. Shows the five words in the acronym with a graphic. The word define with a target icon, the word measure with a tape measure graphic, the word analyse with a magnifying glass graphic, the word improve with a graphic of some cogs and upwards facing arrows and finally the word control with a dial on a dashboard graphic.


The DMAIC structure is particularly useful as it’s a tried-and-tested framework for seeing process improvements through. Another framework is PDSA plan, do, study, act which is very similar to DMAIC in terms of process. 

Whichever process optimisation route you go down is up to you — just make sure it gets done. In the modern world of business, teams constantly need to adapt and remain agile, and their processes need to similarly keep up with change. For a content team, perhaps there have been new hires, meaning there’s more capacity to perform peer reviews and edits of other people’s work. Or, let’s say the marketing manager wants to place a bigger emphasis on CRO for all onsite blog posts; the relevant, documented processes must change accordingly. 

The takeaway from this section is rather simple: Optimise processes regularly!

Thrive with the architect’s approach to writing content

According to George R.R. Martin, The Winds of Winter — which is the next instalment in the Game of Thrones series — will arrive in 2021. That means it’ll have taken him over ten years to write the sixth book of the epic fantasy series. 

While a blog post certainly doesn’t have the same word count as a book, the equivalent would be taking a month to write a 1,500-word post.

But by documenting your content writing processes, following my advice on what those processes should look like, and how to optimise them going forward, you and your content won’t succumb to the precarious fate of the gardener. With an architectural approach, you and your team will write effective posts efficiently. Every single time.

No items found.

About the author

Thom James Carter

Thom James Carter is a content writer at Process Street, where he writes about processes, systems, SaaS, and all things tech. You can follow him on Twitter.

Related posts you might like